National Nuclear Security Administration

Ongoing Collaboration Between the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration and South Africa

May 7, 2015

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Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) Anne Harrington welcomed Ratanang Margin Moagi from the Department of Energy of South Africa and Ramasukudu Gabriel Pitsoane of the South African National Nuclear Regulator to the NNSA’s and International Atomic Energy Agency’s 25th International Training Course (ITC) on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities at Sandia National Laboratories.

The participation of South African officials at the ITC is just the latest activity in a long-term collaboration between NNSA and South Africa. This partnership has resulted in specific accomplishments that have improved nuclear material security conditions in South Africa while enabling the peaceful uses of nuclear technology – in particular, the secure production of isotopes for medical purposes. These activities are ongoing, and future projects will continue to benefit South Africans and the international community.

A key area of NNSA cooperation with the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation’s (Necsa) Pelindaba Site has been to collaborate on meeting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines for physical protection of nuclear facilities and materials.  For the past five years, NNSA in cooperation with Necsa, has been working to enhance security at several buildings at Necsa’s Pelindaba site, including the central and secondary alarm stations. The teams completed this work at the site in July 2014. A U.S. interagency delegation visited in August 2014 to review the newly installed systems, affirming that the buildings at Pelindaba where NNSA and Necsa collaborated are secured consistent with the highest international standards. 

DNN is continuing to work with Necsa to secure additional rooms containing high priority radioactive sources and other materials of concern at the Pelindaba site. In Sandia National Laboratories hosted Necsa security staff for Central Alarm Station operations training on best practices for improving assessment and response capabilities.”  In addition, DNN is partnering with the Ministry of Health to provide security enhancements at high priority radiological sites throughout the country. NNSA and Necsa will continue to work together to identify future joint projects designed to secure both nuclear and radiological materials at facilities inside and outside the Pelindaba site. 

DNN pursues permanent threat reduction through the removal or elimination of weapons-usable nuclear material.  In 2011, the United States completed the removal of all U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) in South Africa. In the announcement of the removal Harrington said, “The completion of this project is another example of the close partnership between NNSA and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, and the significant technical expertise and professionalism of Necsa were key factors in the success of the operation.” 

In 2008, NNSA and Necsa successfully completed the conversion of South Africa’s SAFARI-1 research reactor from using highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel.  With this conversion, there are no longer any nuclear reactors in South Africa using HEU fuel. 

NNSA continues to work with South Africa to convert their process to produce the medical isotope Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) at the SAFARI-1 reactor to using only LEU. NTP Radioisotopes (a subsidiary of Necsa) successfully achieved the first large-scale production of Mo-99 using LEU targets in 2010. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved NTP-produced Mo-99 from LEU targets for U.S. patient care in 2010, and NTP’s material continues to be regularly imported into the United States by U.S. generator manufacturers for use in patient care today. NNSA’s Y-12 National Security Complex has an ongoing commitment to provide Necsa with LEU to support the future production of Mo-99 at the SAFARI-I reactor. 

South Africa also has led regional activities to improve nuclear security efforts in Africa. In February 2014, South Africa welcomed a Southern Africa regional seminar in Pretoria (co-hosted by the European Union and the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies). National authorities from South Africa and 12 other southern African countries joined in discussions on activities related to nuclear and radiological materials. The seminar highlighted new developments in the region’s nuclear activities, notably in uranium mining, and identified ways to address the challenges that these new activities pose to nuclear safety, transport and uranium ore concentrate [PHOTO 5] security, safeguards, and radiological source security in the region. 

In addition, NNSA and its South African partners have cooperated on issues related to the implementation of international safeguards. For example, DNN provided a measurement system, along with associated training and maintenance, to develop Necsa’s ability to more precisely measure the quantity of South African origin HEU in waste drums to allow more accurate reporting of its HEU holdings to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). DNN also is providing a specialized system to measure the amount of uranium residue in byproducts of radioisotope production at the NTP Radioisotopes (NTP) facility.  This unique measurement system is expected to be operational in 2015 and provides measurements in support of radioisotope production at the NTP facility, meeting International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards accounting requirements.

NNSA has extensive cooperation with South Africa in support of its efforts to strengthen the country’s export control system, DNN provided Commodity Identification Training-Instructor Training (CIT-IT) to the Republic of South Africa (RSA) and supplied South Africa with a “localized” version of a searchable commodity data base.  For three years, South Africa has participated in a multilateral Technical Experts Working Group (TEWG), in which participants share best practices in licensing, enforcement and outreach.  DNN (with the support of the Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security [EXBS] Program) will hold an outreach workshop at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in May 2015 to help the South African Department of Trade and Industry engage with its domestic industry partners. The workshop will include the participation of South African experts, a U.S., multi-laboratory team and a U.S. Department of Commerce expert.  NNSA hopes that South Africa will continue exchanges in this area, either bilaterally or through regional arrangements. 

DNN and South Africa also cooperate on efforts to further develop Necsa’s nuclear forensics capabilities. NNSA has provided several trainings to Necsa both in the United States and in South Africa, in coordination with the State Department. IN May 2015, NNSA will hold a course for Necsa staff at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). NNSA has also advised Necsa on the procurement of equipment and on the construction of a clean room for forensics analysis.  This partnership demonstrated its value when Necsa was called on to analyze a uranium sample that was seized in Durban, South Africa on November 19, 2013.  Scientists from Necsa and LLNL jointly published a report on that event. In addition, NNSA remains interested in working with South Africa on the deployment of radiation detection systems at key points of entry and exit in South Africa as part of its global effort to counter nuclear and radiological smuggling

In addition to cooperation with NNSA, South Africa is a participant in the Nuclear Security Summit process, attending each of the three Summits since 2010, and has collaborated with the UNSCR Committee to provide training in southern Africa.  Finally, South Africa also engages actively with the IAEA in areas of nuclear safety, security and peaceful uses of nuclear technology.  IAEA Director General Yukia Amano, speaking on March 18, 2015 in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the SAFARI-I reactor, said, “South Africa is an experienced user of advanced nuclear technology, a leader in many areas, and a valued partner for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Your country provides an excellent example of how modern technology can be used effectively to advance development and improve people’s lives. The IAEA is proud to have worked closely with you on your journey.”